Wednesday, April 23, 2014
PORTLAND – The city will become the center of the beer-drinking universe this weekend as thousands of craft beer fans and brewers from around the world converge for an international gathering called The Festival.
Allison Stevens pours a draft Wednesday at her bar, The Thirsty Pig on Exchange Street in Portland, in advance of the beer celebration known as The Festival. The international event serves as a showcase for the “rock stars” of the craft beer world.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
Customers – from left, Sarah Jump, Biz Wing, Erika Colby, Brian Gallant and Helen Walden – enjoy the selections at Novare Res Bier Cafe in Portland on Wednesday. A swarm of beer lovers is expected to visit the city this weekend.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer
IF YOU GO
Dan Shelton of Shelton Bros. has this advice for how to approach the dizzying array of offerings at the event:
• There are several brewers that are considered "rock stars," and the lines at their booths are likely to be long. Take advantage of that, Shelton says, and go visit brewers who have shorter lines but whose products are, in many cases, just as good or better.
• Visit as many brewers as you can. "Don't sit at one booth and drink five different beers there," Shelton said.
• Try some beers you've never heard of before -- they'll be great, and you'll spend less time in lines.
• The usual advice at beer tastings is to start with lower alcohol content and work your way up to higher alcohol content. Don't worry about that here, because there will be simply too much variety.
• Take advantage of the rinse stations to wash out your glass between tastings.
• Stay hydrated, and be sure to eat something along the way.
-- Meredith Goad
Consisting of three tasting sessions – one Friday and two Saturday – at the Portland Co. Complex on Fore Street, The Festival is organized by beer importers and serves as a showcase for the rock stars of the beer world.
It's expected to inject nearly $1 million into Portland's economy and provide priceless exposure for local craft brewers, pubs, restaurants and businesses that cater to tourists.
Sven Bosch, 44, is flying to Portland from Mataro, a city in the Catalonia region of Spain. He's the owner of a Belgian beer cafe, The Drunk Monk (rated one of the 50 best beer bars in the world by ratebeer.com), and is coming to The Festival to seek out new American beers to serve at his bar.
"I'm staying for four days," Bosch said in an email, "two days for The Festival and then two days for tourism, maybe to visit a brewery and to visit some local pubs."
Jason Kramer, a 36-year-old pharmacist, planned to leave his home in the central Pennsylvania town of Sunbury on Thursday morning to begin his own pilgrimage to Portland by car. He planned to stop at breweries in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire before arriving at the Portland Marriott on Friday morning.
Kramer will attend all three sessions of The Festival to be sure he can meet as many of the 70 or so brewers who are attending as he wants -- the people whose names are on the labels of some of his favorite beers and who are, to the beer world, what chefs like Mario Batali are to the foodie set.
"Some of these brewers -- in our weird, demented, beer geek world -- are like celebrities," Kramer said, "and you don't get a chance to meet these people on a daily basis."
Multiply Bosch and Kramer by 2,000 or 3,000, and you have some idea of the swarm of beer lovers about to descend on the city this weekend. It's as if a cruise ship docked in Portland and let all its passengers out into the streets. But instead of going back to the ship in the evening for dinner and a place to rest, the visitors will fill the city's hotel rooms and dine in its restaurants.
There are travelers coming from as far away as England, Norway and Spain, said Robert Merryman of Shelton Bros. beer distributors, one of the organizers of the event. Some are brewers, but many are tourists coming from Europe just to attend the festival. Attendees also include craft beer fans from 20 states.
"The majority of the festival-goers come from New England and the rest of the eastern seaboard -- New York and Pennsylvania," Merryman said, "but we do have people coming from California, Kentucky, Texas and all over the U.S."
Barbara Whitten, president of the Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimates that the beer festival will pump at least $750,000 into the Portland economy -- and that's a conservative estimate.
"First-time visitors to our state are highly prized because once they come here, they realize how much more there is to see and do," she said, "and they will come back and talk to other people about visiting here, too."
Whitten is particularly happy that the organizers chose Portland because the city has been working hard to promote itself as a culinary travel destination. The thousands of people expected to attend The Festival will help spread the word that "we have some great beer in Maine," she said.
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Greg Norton, owner of Bier Cellar at 299 Forest Ave., displays a large variety of beers, plus a mead and hard cider, that will be featured this weekend during The Festival at The Portland Company on Fore Street.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer